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Officials Say Disaster Averted In Greenfield

March 30, 1985

GREENFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ Flames that jumped 250 feet high after railroad tank cars filled with alcohol derailed, forcing 3,000 people out of their homes, finally fizzled out Saturday.

″Somebody was watching out for us,″ said Deputy Fire Chief Andy Lively. ″It had the potential to be a real tragic disaster, but it wasn’t.″

The only person injured was a firefighter who overexerted himself, Lively said. He was treated at a hospital and released.

The blaze began at 11:45 a.m. Friday when three Boston & Maine tank cars containing 30,000 gallons of alcohol derailed. Firefighters and police contained the fire by 3:40 a.m. Saturday.

Most of the 3,000 evacuees in this western Massachusetts city of 15,000 returned home late Friday. The last 50 people who lived closest to the derailment were allowed back into their homes at 8 a.m. Saturday.

Firefighters had left the scene by noon, but railroad company investigators and state environmental officials remained to monitor the situation.

Officials said a disaster was averted by well-laid emergency plans, calm residents and luck.

The derailment occurred in a ″rather remote″ location, said Lively.

″There were no houses in the immediate vicinity,″ he said. ″And the content of the cars could have been a lot more volatile.

″We were lucky also because the air lifted the smoke straight up instead of out into the neighborhood. The elements were on our side.″

The railroad was trying to determine the cause of the derailment, said Boston & Maine spokesman Dennis Coffey.

″We’re checking the physical remains as best as possible and interviewing the crew,″ he said. ″But it could be days before we know why this happened.″

The fire erupted about 75 yards from a railroad underpass under Interstate 91 and quickly engulfed several acres of nearby woodland, with trees 30 feet high blackened to the top.

Officials said the alcohol flowed underneath the highway overpass and scorched the bridge but apparently caused no structural damage. Officials closed a six-mile portion of the highway for several hours.

The train of more than 50 cars originated at Wells River, Vt., and was headed for East Deerfield, Coffey said.

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